The Story Behind Pan Ector, Denton's Favorite (and Growing) Printing Company

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All photos by Jane R. LeBlanc
L-R: Co-owners Drew Elam, Michael Little and Nick Webber, plus full-time designer Thomas Rodgers.
You may have seen them at local bands' concerts, or maybe a printing event at Rubber Gloves, or perhaps at the Denton Holiday Lighting Festival. Behind a multi-colored mountain of T-shirts, a six-armed printing press looms, spun 'round and 'round by a group of guys as the duds are pressed with ink and removed for drying. You may even know who they are. Most do.

They're Pan Ector, the Denton-based printing press company who's made a name for themselves by printing on-site at events. Not that they planned it that way.

"The live printing was like, oh yeah, we can do this, people want this," says co-owner and CFOO Michael Little. Adds co-owner and Creative Director Nick Webber: "We started just bringing a box of shirts and a screen or two, and it very quickly evolved into event-specific designs or tailored to the market of whoever was attending the event. We very quickly expanded our stock that we brought out to these events. So we'd have a lot of shirt color options and size options and tank-tops and baseball tees."

Pan Ector was founded in 2009 by Little, Webber and production manager Drew Elam, all from Texas and all UNT alums. (Two other founders, Taylor McClure and Yovanny Canales, are no longer with the company.) Little got his bachelor's in printmaking in 2009, and Elam and Webber followed in 2010; Elam earned a bachelor's in printmaking and Webber in communication design. While they were in school, the guys started collecting printing equipment to keep at home.

"Printmaking, in general, was just something we were all interested in," says Webber. "And screen printing, more specifically. Because while they (UNT) offer screen printing on campus, they don't offer a lot of apparel printing," which is what Denton's thriving music scene was demanding.

"It's a creative town," says Webber. "Lots of friends of ours were in bands that needed merch and posters, and we were close with a lot of student organizations that needed merch."

"These guys," he says, hooking a thumb a Little and Elam, "were still actively involved in PANTS, the Printmaking Association of North Texas Students. PANTS, along with Gutterth, a local record label and production company, would host a semesterly printmaking show at Rubber Gloves. We kind of got involved with that, bringing some of our equipment out to the end-of-semester shows and printing some things on-site. We let people bring in shirts, pillow cases, paper, whatever they had, and we'd print on it right there."

The trio's original base of business was the house they shared at Panhandle Street and Ector Street in Denton, hence the name Pan Ector.

"Technically, we weren't supposed to be doing any production there," says Webber. "The neighborhood that we were in just wasn't zoned for this type of production," adds Little. Not that the neighbors minded. "We kept it mostly to normal hours, we weren't being loud or disruptive in the middle of the night or anything," says Webber. "They were all pretty supportive of what we were doing," says Little. While the guys didn't try and hide what they were doing (they worked in an open garage that faced the street), the law eventually caught up with them.

An article about their involvement with 35 Denton ran in the Denton Record-Chronicle in March of 2012, and a few months after that, the jig was up. City zoning officials called.

"They were very nice," Webber says. "They kinda knew about us, who we were and what we were doing." "We'd even done business with some other departments," starts Little. "Yeah, yeah," continues Webber, laughing. "With waste management, which is housed in the same facility as zoning." So they rented out some office space off West Hickory Street, behind Mi Casita and close to Midway Mart, slapped some bright orange paint on the doors and called it home.

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Co-owner Drew Elam shows UNT student intern Lauren Alexander the ropes.
With a real office, the business really took off. "35 (Denton) was a big thing for us," says Little. They landed gigs at a range of events, including Pistons & Paint, a major Denton car show. "It was their biggest show to date," says Webber. "And it was a blast for us. It was a different demographic than we were used to, dealing primarily with music festival and street fairs. So it was a new market, but we were well received. We're already planning with them for next year's event." They also pressed Ts at Denton's Day of the Dead Festival (their wildest and most varied audience), Wakepalooza, a competition put on by the UNT wakeboarding club, and Oaktopia , the recent music and art bash in Denton.

With business expanding, they even started hiring interns, like Lauren Alexander (pictured above), a printmaking major. Interns come from the art world (printmaking and fiber art) and communication design. "Nick oversees the designers who come through here," says Elam. "We usually have a least one design intern, so it's a healthy amount of hired full-time help, part-time help and interns." While the internships are unpaid (which the guys hope to change in the future), the students earn college credit for their work, which is fine with the interns. UNT is fertile ground for young creatives hoping to score some real time with a real company. "We try to make it beneficial to them in other ways," says Little. "We offer them access to our equipment, which they can use to make stuff that they can sell."

Interning at Pan Ector also gives students an idea of what it's really like to work for a printing company. "We enjoy it, but it's probably a lot different than what people think," says Webber. "We're there long before the event starts and long after it ends. A lot of times, especially working music festivals, there's bands we're excited to see, but we're swamped. We don't really get away from the booth. So while we're right there in the mix, we don't necessarily get to experience the festival or fair like everyone else would."

With festival and fair dates filling their calendars, along with live music shows, Pan Ector outgrew their offices in a mere 18 months. They moved last month, 1.9 miles from downtown Denton, into a place on Shady Oaks Drive. Along with the new location came new branding and an updated website. Future plans include devoting more time to their social media platforms, expanding their online store and retooling their mobile set up. They're also considering holding printing classes and presentations. With the guys' connections at UNT, the university could offer the company a built-in audience. "We're just excited to be a part of this growth that's going on in Denton right now," says Webber. "We're happy that we've been able to find cool, local clients that are happy to work with a local print shop."

To find out where Pan Ector will sling Ts next, follow the company on Twitter.

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